Sunday 9 July 2017

Two additions on my last weekend before leave

June is arguably the dullest month for birding in Nouakchott and so it had proved to be until the weekend of 16th and 17th. These two days showed that it pays not to be prejudiced when it comes to birding. 

It all started innocently enough. 16th June was actually quite a cool day and this allowed me to bird north Nouakchott lake more intensively than of late. 

squacco heron

Despite this I saw a total of only 17 species which is exactly half the record number I had seen in winter. This was along with expectations for June being the dullest month. However the 17 species included at least one which was anything but ordinary. There will be more on this in a moment.

Things started out normally though I don't always see squacco heron or grey heron. A single of both were present that Friday afternoon.

grey heron

The moorhen, African swamphen, little grebe and Eurasian coot all have young at the moment.

common moorhen

The single northern pintail that I had been seeing for weeks was still present. My prediction that it might over-summer is looking solid.

northern pintail

While the spur-winged lapwing show signs of pairing off, they have not bred like the water fowl. I suspect they breed in the rainy season such as it is in Nouakchott.

spur-winged lapwing

However it was in the air that I found my new species for my Mauritanian list and which made the visit that Friday so interesting. Along with the regular little swift, I came across two plain swift. They were relatively easily separated from common swift which is the only real confusion species.

Having the little swift present it was simple to compare size. The plain swift were not much larger than the little swift whereas common swift is obviously so. Furthermore, there was no obvious pale throat to see and the tail was noticeably forked. The flight mode was very different to common swift too. It was very erratic as well as fast. All these features fit with plain swift

Indeed the erratic movements made it impossible for me to get a good picture.

Here is something strange. There are more records of plain swift in June in Mauritania than any other month. Indeed the e-bird database has that species available from the drop down list in June but not common swift. This is consistent with my observation.

Incidentally, I have discovered that the more precise name of North Nouakchott Lake is F-Nord lake. F-Nord is one of two districts in north Nouakchott. From now on, I will refer to the lake as F-Nord lake.

The next day, early on Saturday morning, I made my now familiar walk out westward through central lake, west Nouakchott pools to south of the fish market. This too was more much eventful than of late.

black-tailed godwit at central lake

Flying above the central lake was another plain swift suggesting the day before's observations were not a fluke.

sanderling and common ringed plover at west Nouakchott pools

I moved on to west Nouakchott pools fairly quickly as it is in a secure embassy zone. 

There was more variation in the waders in the pools there than of late.

Kittlitz's plover

I observed my first common redshank for a month or two.

common redshank

One I had thought was possibly a green sandpiper and the first for nearly as long.

distant wood sandpiper

I got close to it.  Green sandpiper in breeding plumage is quite white-spotted and can look very like a wood sandpiper in non-breeding plumage. Furthermore, this bird had a very weak supercilium supporting green sandpiper. I don't think knowing that wood sandpiper is overall lighter than green sandpiper always helps in these types of cases and in such bright conditions as are usual in Nouakchott. 

In the end I think the best characteristic to look at in this case is the barring on the undertail. The narrow bars here are characteristic of wood sandpiper

close-up of the sandpiper

There was a nice gathering of spur-winged lapwing though like at F-Nord lake the day before there was no sign yet of nesting.

four spur-winged lapwing at west Nouakchott pools

After an hour or so at west Nouakchott pools, I walked  the final two kilometres to the coast just south of the fish market.

Here again, there was more bird activity the last couple of visits and a pleasant surprise.

Firstly, I noticed more terns. There were royal tern, gull-billed tern, Caspian tern and a very late migrant black tern.

black tern

The big news was over the sea. While watching the terns I glimpsed what I thought was a Wilson's storm petrel literally flying over where the waves broke onto the shore. I could not believe my eyes that one had come in so close.

record shot of Wilson's storm petrel

I changed my birding tactics to spend 30 or 40 minutes only looking for storm petrels. A second one did exactly the same as the first one and flew along the beach, only metres into the water.

I saw five more further out to sea including one which I got a record shot off 300 metres out and in front of a fishing boat.

There has been an observation of a flock of several tens of thousands of these summer visitors from the southern hemisphere. This was in July and 100 kilometres out to sea off Nouakchott.

Other smaller (but still large) flocks have been regularly seen here too. They seem to be particularly attracted to the zone of cooler North Atlantic water just north of the inter-tropical convergence zone. This cooler water begins near Nouakchott. 

Give the many thousands of Wilson's storm petrel that must migrate in May and June, is not unsurprising that a few ventured close to the shore near fish market on 17th June.

It was a fitting last observation before I left Mauritania for my summer holiday. it made species 262 on my country list.

Species seen at F-Nord lake on 16th June
Northern Pintail  1    
Little Grebe  30
Grey Heron  1
Cattle Egret  6
Squacco Heron  1
African Swamphen  6 
Common Moorhen  32
Eurasian Coot  35    
Black-headed Gull  1
Speckled Pigeon  4
Laughing Dove  5
Little Swift 6
Plain Swift  2    
Barn Swallow  4
Common House Martin  2    
House Sparrow  18
Sudan Golden Sparrow  12
Red-billed Quelea  1

Species seen south of the fish market on 17th June
Wilson's Storm-Petrel  9
Kittlitz's Plover  1
Kentish Plover  4
Common Ringed Plover  1
Bar-tailed Godwit  1   
Little Stint  3
Lesser Black-backed Gull  3    
Gull-billed Tern  2
Caspian Tern  1
Black Tern  1
Royal Tern  6
Laughing Dove  2
Little Swift  2
Crested Lark  3
Barn Swallow  4    
House Sparrow  8

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